Short History of Georgian Film
The first film screening in Georgia took place on November 16, 1896, in the Tbilisi Nobility Theater, where the films shot by the Lumière brothers' Cinematograph were shown. This information was reported by the newspaper "Tsnobis Purtseli" ("Fact Paper"). It is not known who carried out this event. Since then, many demonstrators came here and organized film screenings in various institutions.
In 1900, the photographer Davit Digmelov (Digmelashvili) and his son, Alexander, bought a cinematograph, bought films, and studied film projection techniques. They created the program "Vague Pictures", in which they showed images of the "Magic Lantern" and in which they also showed Lumière films, and went on tour to the cities of Gori, Borjomi, Surami, Zestafoni, Chiatura, Kutaisi, and Poti, where Davit Dighomelov appeared to the public under the pseudonym of John Morris.
In 1904–1907, several cinemas ("Illusion", "Uran", "Moulin-Electric", "Muse", "Apollo", etc.) were opened in Tbilisi. Most of these halls could accommodate 50–60 people. They were called "projectors" or "electro-theaters". Representations of foreign film companies were also opened. The latter offered their own productions to the owners of local cinemas and instructed their employees to film documentaries and spectacular films about the life of Tbilisi, which they also sent abroad.
In 1908, Vasil Amashukeli started to work on short films (essay films) in Baku (Azerbaijan). "People Promenading Along the Beach" being one of the first examples to be produced, followed by regularly filmed shorts that were screened in a cinema in addition to the main program.
When, in 1909, Mitropane Kvaliashvili wrote the screenplay for the fiction-documentary "Berikaoba-Keenoba" with the intention of filming it, celebrated author, playwright, director, and actor Shalva Dadiani recruited to this end a seasoned cameraman from Russia, who was consulted by the drama director Alexandre Tzutzunava. The principal shooting took place on the Feast of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary in the village of Itria, near Surami. The participants included professional actors, locals, and visiting residents from neighboring villages.
In 1910, Alexandre Dighmelov filmed "Tbilisi Hippodrome", his first short documentary, followed by "The Flight of the First Aviators: Vassiliev, Utochkin, and Keburia", "Catolicos’ Chrismation", "Lado Meskhishvili’s Anniversary", and others. Dighmelov received a permit from the authorities to make movies throughout Transcaucasia, not only in Georgia. One such film is "Wild Boar and Deer Hunting in Evlakhi and Karaia".
In 1910, Vasil Amashukeli returned to his hometown of Kutaisi, where he continued his work and created such essay films as "Excursion to the Ruins of Bagrati Cathedral", "Chamomile Festival", "Khoni Yarn Dyeing Factory", "Kutaisi Landscapes", and others. He actively participated in the restoration of the fire-damaged cinema "Radiumi". Later, Vasil Amashukeli took a job as a film projectionist at this new modern-style cinema.
In 1912, a twelve-day trip to regions of Georgia (Racha and Lechkhumi) was organized for Akaki Tzereteli, a cherished Georgian patriot, poet, and writer. Vasil Amashukeli contacted the event’s organizers, joined the procession, and filmed this journey. Titled "The Journey of Georgian Poet Akaki Tzereteli to Racha and Lechkhumi on July 21–August 2, 1912" (shortened "Akaki’s Journey"), the film was the first full-length (1,200 meters) Georgian documentary. Its premiere at "Radiumi" on September 20 of the same year was attended by scores of people, including Akaki Tzereteli himself.
Colonel Simon Esadze, an employee of the Military History Museum of the Caucasus, worked prolifically in the filmmaking of the 1910s by participating in the creation of several Russian movies.
Through the efforts of Germane Gogitidze, "Kristine" (directed by A. Tzutzunava), the first Georgian feature film, hit the screen in 1916. The film, which is based on Egnate Ninoshvili’s short story of the same name, would not hesitate to grab the audience’s attention. Later, Gogitidze expanded the film by recruiting A. Dighmelov to shoot additional scenes. The extended edition was screened for the audience in 1918.
On May 26, 1918, after the collapse of the Russian Empire and as a result of the political shifts of that time, Georgia declared independence. The newly established government was unable to pay due attention to the film industry, which is why the country’s filmmaking was forced to go with the flow. Unfortunately, no feature films were produced during that period, only chronicles.
On February 25, 1921, Soviet rule was established in Georgia. The new government took cinema under its wing as a perfect means to educate and nourish the public at large with new ideas and, at the same time, to propagate its authority. In April of the same year, the film section was established at the People’s Commissariat (Ministry) of Education and put in charge of managing the filmmaking industry. The division put together both Georgian and different foreign filmmakers operating in the country at that time. It was decided to produce several feature films and documentaries in the first year, and adequate financial assets were allocated to this end. The cinemas were nationalized, that is, transferred from private ownership to state ownership, and part of the financial income received from them was to be used to create new movies.
Even though the cinema division’s technical equipment was quite poor, its staff exhibited exemplary dedication in producing its first work, a documentary titled "Children Traveling to Kojori for Holidays" (1921). The next item on the agenda involved producing a feature film. Consequently, the first motion picture titled "Arsena Jorjiashvili" (dir. I. Perestiani), featuring Mikheil Chiaureli in the eponymous role, premiered in October 1921. The film’s success exceeded all expectations, breaking even within the first couple of weeks, with the subsequent profit enabling the cinema division to upgrade its stage and laboratory, to expand its staff, and so on. In the meantime, film adaptations were also created, such as "Surami Fortress" (1922, dir. I. Perestiani) at first and then "The Mentor" (1922, dir. V. Barski), though neither proved to be of any artistic value.
In March 1923, the film section was transformed into the State Film Industry of Georgia JSC (Sakhkinmrtetzvi). Ivan Perestiani filmed "The Red Devils" (1923), a historical movie about the revolution that quickly built a cult following. The same year saw the premiere of the feature film "Patricide" (1923, dir. A. Bek-Nazarov), marking the debut of the gorgeous Nato Vachnadze, Georgian film pride, who teamed up for this film with Vano Sarajishvili, a celebrated opera singer. Barski also directed "Arsena the Outlaw" (1923), featuring Nato Vachnadze, who, with her charm and beauty, stole the audience’s hearts. She also played the lead role in I. Perestiani’s "Three Lives" (1924).
The management of Sakhkinmrtetzvi decided to engage Georgian theater directors to breathe new life into filmmaking. That is how Kote Marjanishvili, who had previous experience in filmmaking abroad, ended up cooperating with the State Film Industry. In filming "Before the Storm", which he directed in 1924, Marjanishvili exercised extra caution and even felt scared in a way, as he fully recognized the responsibility he was about to assume. Alexandre Tzutzunava, a successful stage opera director, filmed "Who’s to Blame?" in 1925.
The creative and technical potential of Georgian filmmaking also expanded. Movie rental revenues grew in leaps and bounds, and film theaters kept springing up like mushrooms, with far-reaching plans being made to build them in rural areas as well. The State Film Industry of Georgia also released documentaries, which were vitally important politically as they demonstrated the success of the newly established state across a variety of areas of the national economy and culture.
In 1926, A. Tzutzunava’s film "Khanuma", the first Georgian comedy, hit the screen, preceded by debates in the republic’s press over the type of comedy film most suitable for Georgian filmmaking. "Khanuma" is based on Avksenti Tsagareli’s play of the same name and Victor Dolidze’s opera "Keto and Kote".
Marjanishvili directed "Samanishvili’s Stepmother" (1926) after Davit Kldiashvili’s work of the same name (co-dir. Shakro Berishvili). This comedy was yet another attempt by the authors to portray the hardship and cocky character of the Georgian nobility in the previous century by placing them in tragicomic situations.
The State Film Industry of Georgia resolved to establish a workshop for screenwriting. The government allocated relevant funds and urged the representatives of Sakhkinmretzvi to engage young authors in screenwriting and to recruit prominent scholars as consultants.
Kote Marjanishvili’s "Amok" (1927), shot after Stefan Zweig’s novella of the same name, marked the first foreign literature film adaptation attempted in the history of Georgian film. Because of the worsening diplomatic relations between the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom, Marjanishvili’s version of the film portraying an English officer was modified by someone, deleting particular key scenes, reediting, and butchering the movie by misplacing its key emphases. In the end, the plot changed completely. As if that were not enough, the title was changed to "The Law and the Duty". Only after decades was this film more or less restored to its original form.
Along with the succession of generations at the State Film Industry of Georgia, more theater actors transferred to cinema to portray impressive screen characters. Such talented artists as Lado Gudiashvili and Davit Kakabadze closely cooperated with filmmakers, and scriptwriters Viktor Shklovski and Sergey Tretyakov moved from Moscow to assist their Georgian colleagues.
In 1928, the newsreel division, headed by Siko Dolidze, was established at the Sakhkinmretsvi. The division launched the periodical "The Newsreel of the State Film Industry of Georgia" and filmed its first documentary, "Their Kingdom" (dir. Mikheil Kalatozishvili and Nutsa Ghoghoberidze), in 1928.
In 1928, Sergo Amaglobeli's book "The Problems of Theatre and Film", the first work dedicated to national film, was published.
The most successful was Nikoloz Shengelaya's 1928 film "Eliso," based on Alexandre Kazbegi’s short story of the same name. In this work, the director exhibited top-notch rhythmic montage skills and communicated a moving story, for which he was highly commended. Shortly after its inception, "Eliso" was screened along with other Soviet movies at the Stuttgart International Film Exhibition in Germany.
Kote Mikaberidze's film "My Grandmother" (1929) is a satirical comedy unabashedly ridiculing the Soviet bureaucratic system of that time. The film attracted scores of viewers immediately after premiering, yet it was recalled in only a few days because the film’s creators were accused of formalist experimentation. Only after 38 years was the film restored and successfully screened again. It held foreign experts spellbound, as they did not expect such critical thinking from a representative of the Soviet film industry in the 1920s.
Mikheil Kalatozishvili’s film "Jim Shvante!" ("Salt for Svaneti!"), which premiered in 1930, tells the story of Svaneti, one of the most beautiful Georgian regions, and its population, which was living in near-isolation at that time. Among the region’s many problems, the absence of roads naturally distanced Svaneti’s residents from the outside world. After four days of screening, this film, similar to "My Grandmother", was cancelled. For a while, it also sank into oblivion, only to be later rediscovered, praised, and screened in cinemas.
The satirical comedy "Khabarda" (1931), directed by Mikheil Chiaureli, who wrote the screenplay in cooperation with S. Tretyakov, caused a difference of opinion among experts. "Khabarda" is an Azerbaijanian word that translates as "Step aside!" or "Get out of my way!". This phrase is used by the film’s authors to address those hung up on the past. Despite certain critical remarks, the film became one of the most acclaimed works of Georgian film.
In 1932, the Governmental Decree on the "Transformation of Literary and Artistic Organizations" overhauled the filmmakers’ mode of operation. New ways were defined for filling gaps and identifying new styles and forms. The scriptwriters were instructed to participate in filming and editing.
The first Georgian sound film was "Shakir" (1932, dir. Leo Esakia). It is true that after that, Sakhkinmretsvi made some more silent films, but as a result of the full utilization of sound techniques, the entire film production became sound. The advent of sound changed many things in film. The new specificity required a new approach and new forms of expression.
Giorgi Makarov’s film "Farewell" (1934) was praised as "an extraordinary filmmaking phenomenon"—this exceptional example of a comedy film relying on historical-revolutionary materials clearly testifies to the director’s talent, artistic taste, and superlative cinematic culture. The film’s popularity is evidenced by the fact that it had a three-month theatrical run, making it a blockbuster of sorts for that time.
Equally popular was "Zhuzhuna’s Dowry" (1934), another comedy film, whose scriptwriter and director was Siko Palavandishvili, a prolific figure in Georgian film who had also worked as an actor and an assistant director. It was because of his vast experience that he was entrusted with making a new film on his own. Palavandishvili’s debut proved to be a success. The film was embraced with special tenderness by Georgia’s rural population, which deeply appreciated this slice-of-life type of film.
Siko Dolidze’s “The Last Crusaders” (1934) described the painful and problematic process of introducing a new kind of relations in the mountainous regions, while Mikheil Chiaureli’s “The Last Masquerade” (1934) portrayed the recent historical past. This historical-revolutionary film, featuring in abundance satirical characters and tragicomedy situations, turned into one of the most remarkable works.
In 1935, the cartoon film "The Argonauts" began to be filmed in Sakhkinmretsvi. Its director and screenwriter was Vladimer Mujiri, and well-known artist Lado Gudiashvili was invited as the production designer. This film was released in 1936 and was well received not only by the children but also by the adult audience. Then "The Scoundrel" (1937) was created, which was also filmed by Vladimer Mujiri. At the same time, the employees of the screenplay department of Sakhkinmrestvi were writing scripts for upcoming cartoon films. Georgian animation, despite the difficult working conditions, gradually gained strength.
“The Lost Paradise” (1937), a brilliant comedy film by Davit Rondeli, portrays a priceless picture of the Western Georgian village in the second half of the XIX century, with its satirical and comic scenes targeting haughty, slothful, and impoverished petty noblemen and toiling peasants.
In the summer of 1938, the State Film Industry of Georgia JSC was abolished and replaced with the Tbilisi Film Studio.
On June 22, 1941, the Soviet Union engaged in World War II. The Tbilisi Film Studio was quick to respond. Within the first days of the war, a group of documentary filmmakers was put together at the newsreel division and dispatched to the frontlines to film the battles. The production of so-called “Battle Film Collections” (war-themed shorts) was launched. Despite the wartime hardship and rapidly dropping film production, the historical film genre carried on, with “Giorgi Saakadze” (1942–1943), Mikheil Chiaureli’s two-part feature film, deserving special mention. Akaki Khorava, a celebrated Georgian stage and screen actor, portrayed Giorgi Saakadze as a selfless hero who laid down his life for the homeland. Khorava’s performance was complemented by an equally brilliant ensemble of actors: Akaki Vasadze, Alexandre Omiadze, Veriko Anjaparidze, Spartak Baghashvili, and Sergo Zakariadze.
Georgian documentary filmmaking played a crucial role in covering the war. The documentary film of that time was known for its efficiency, innovativeness, and civic consciousness. Some of the employees of the newsreel division even paid the ultimate price - Vladimer Kilosanidze, Vladimir Mitrofanov, and Chichiko Dzidziguri died a hero’s death while filming on the frontlines.
Post-war Georgian film entered a period of few films from 1946 to 1952, when the Tbilisi Film Studio released only eight feature films. This problem was preconditioned by the fact that the state was dealing with the consequences of war, rebuilding demolished villages, and reviving its industry. Naturally, finances were channeled in this direction, for the most part.
Mikheil Chiaureli’s film “The Vow” (1946) won a gold medal at the Venice International Film Festival in Italy, the first award garnered by a Georgian film abroad.
In 1946, the Central Archive of Film and Photo Documents became fully operational. Although it was established in 1944, organizational challenges prevented it from commencing its work earlier. This much-needed institution brought together films, photo materials, the personal archives of different filmmakers, and so on.
In 1948, Vakhtang Tabliashvili and Shalva Gedevanishvili directed film “Keto and Kote”. Although this work was based on A. Tsagareli’s play “Khanuma” and V. Dolidze opera of the same name, the authors included in the film new, original scenes and musical numbers.
The year 1953 marked a new wave of reforms in Georgian cinema. The Tbilisi Film Studio was renamed the Studio “Georgian Film”. Along with organizational changes, ways to improve film production were defined.
Siko Dolidze and Levan Khotivari directed the 1954 melodrama “The Dragonfly,” which proved to be a triumph for actress Leila Abashidze. This role earned her enormous popularity both at home in Georgia and abroad, where millions enjoyed the film. American critics compared L. Abashidze to their film star Mary Pickford.
An interesting work was the film “Magdana’s Donkey” (1955), by young directors Tengiz Abuladze and Revaz (Rezo) Chkheidze, who changed the ending of the film’s literary source (Ekaterine Gabashvili’s short story of the same name). The directors openly defied the filmmaking standards of that time and rejected boring themes and dull plots. The ability to depict on the screen slices of life with precision and conviction, as found for the first time in “Magdana’s Donkey”, subsequently turned into one of the characteristic features of Georgian film. This work marked a turning point in Georgian filmmaking. A year later, “Magdana’s Donkey” received several prestigious awards at international film festivals, including in Cannes (France) and Edinburgh (United Kingdom).
Rezo Chkheidze’s other film “Our Courtyard” (1956) is a multifaceted story about the residents of a big house in Tbilisi. The plot, which builds on the principles of documentary filmmaking, raises a number of issues, such as upbringing, friendship, love, relations with parents and neighbors, finding one’s place in society, and others. The film also features purely melodramatic motifs, comic scenes, and tragedy.
The story related in T. Abuladze’s feature film “Other People’s Children” (1958), which is based on a newspaper article, provides the viewer with plenty of food for thought about human relationships, spiritual richness, moral and civic responsibility, and uncompromisingness in the process of deciding personal matters. In opting in favor of said approach to the topic, the director trampled down the cliché schemes of Soviet film and, in fully developing humane characters, channeled the narrative in a completely different direction. The film garnered prestigious awards at different film festivals.
In 1958, the newsreel division of the Studio “Georgian Film” was transformed into the Studio of Documentary, Newsreels, and Popular Science Films which went on to cement and expand the opportunities of these branches of filmmaking in Georgia.
Relatively few films were produced in Georgian animation, and among them Vakhtang Bakhtadze's "The Handyman" (1958), Arkadi Khintibidze's "Jay Wedding" (1959), and "Feud" (1959) are outstanding cartoons highly appreciated by everyone.
At the end of the 50s and the beginning of the 60s, a new generation came to Georgian film. A certain part of what, at first, went into documentaries and made several noteworthy films also began, from the late 1960s on, to make feature films as well. That's why they called them the “Generation of Sixties”. These works were radically different from other films and became the subject of judgment for a long time. Young filmmakers brought new topics, took symbolism, documentary, emotionality, and sometimes even an ironic attitude towards things and events, presented a world where a completely different situation and faith reigned, and with all this, they impeccably carried out the honorable mission of moving Georgian film into a new dimension. This generation includes Otar Ioseliani, Eldar and Giorgi Shengelaya, Lana Ghoghoberidze, Merab Kokochashvili, Tamaz Meliava, and others.
Giorgi Shengelaya adapted Guram Rcheulishvili's interesting short story “Alaverdoba” (1962) to the screen and presented a perfect example of cinematic thinking. The main character enters into a conflict with the society - he stands up against degenerate old traditions and tries to wake up those people who participate in the celebration almost mechanically.
In that period, most of the 1960s generation directed short feature films, of which Mikheil Kobakhidze’s “The Wedding” (1964) was the most successful. This comedy, which builds on the principles of silent film and abounds in funny elements of surprise, won several awards in the international arena (Germany, France, Argentina). The 1960s generation gained a foothold in Georgian film. Since the late 1960s, they have focused on the in-depth analysis of human nature and the search for a positive film hero.
Suliko Zhghenti wrote the screenplay for “Father of a Soldier” (1964), directed by Rezo Chkheidze, with Sergo Zakariadze’s brilliant performance as the lead character. The authors succeeded in creating an unforgettable, emotion-laden film that earned highly positive reviews and numerous awards at different film forums.
In “Falling Leaves” (1966), a film that informed fierce debates, Otar Ioseliani used the traditional theme of the person versus society conflict to expose the imperfections of his era. The authorities of Soviet film, who were not used to such criticism, even removed the film from the screens at some point. Some critics waged war against the film’s story; others praised the young director’s bold move. Otar Ioseliani employed the principle of incorporating documentary filmmaking into a feature film and focused on one concrete area, namely winemaking. This example of critical realism earned international acclaim along with the Georges Sadoul and Fipresci (the International Federation of Film Critics) Awards.
Mikheil Kobakhidze's film “The Umbrella” (1967) was again short and silent, but its shots and actors spoke without words. The film won the main prize at the Krakow (Poland) Film Festival. Merab Kokochashvili's film, “The Big Green Field” (1967), was dedicated to the theme of the relationship between nature and man. Tengiz Abuladze directed the film “The Plea” (1967) based on the motifs of Vazha-Pshavela's works. He tried to go deep into this writer's philosophy, the eternal issues of good and evil, life and death, light and darkness, and expressed his attitude towards them. The film won the main prize at the Sanremo (Italy) film festival.
Eldar Shengelaya’s brilliant comedy “Extraordinary Exhibition” (1968) relies on Rezo Gabriadze’s original screenplay. The film, which relates the story of a sculptor and his family living in a provincial town, earned broad recognition and acclaim.
In 1968, the Television Film Studio of Georgia was established. Given the specifics of Georgian TV, which was created ten years earlier, it became necessary to produce films suitable for the television screen. Although TV fiction, documentaries, and popular science films were produced even earlier, the creative and production processes were planned and streamlined in advance. “The Serenade” (1968, dir. Kartlos Khotivari) was recognized as one of the best TV films that year.
The Studio of Documentary, Newsreels, and Popular Science Films, which carried on its productive work, engaged a new generation of documentary filmmakers (Otar Gurgenidze, Shergil Shonia, Gia Chubabria, Tengiz Nozadze, Vakhtang Mikeladze, and others) who filmed a number of excellent pictures.
In 1961, Shalva Gedevanishvili filmed the first puppet film "Siko and Niko". The best cartoons of this decade are Arkadi Khintibidze's "Tsuna da Tsrutsuna" (1962) and Vakhtang Bakhtadze's "O, Fashion, Fashion" (1968). Mikheil Chiaureli also tried his hand at animation and filmed "The Dawn Singer" (1968) and "How Mice Were Burring the Cat" (1969). Energetic activity in this field of Georgian cinema was in full swing, and success followed success.
Giorgi Shengelaya’s “Pirosmani” (1969) is based on the life of the brilliant artist Niko Pirosmanashvili and illustrates his time and environment, which are so vividly reflected in his oeuvre. This film garnered a number of awards abroad, most notably the grand prize “Golden Hugo” at the Chicago (USA) Film Festival.
In his next film, “There Was a Singing Blackbird” (1970), Otar Ioseliani, who tirelessly battled against false pretense in filmmaking, exhibited his characteristic documentary-like strict precision to portray the topsy-turvy life of a talented young man. Undoubtedly, Baadur Tzuladze’s “Feola” (1970) and Mikheil Kobakhidze’s “The Musicians” (1970) also deserve special mention, as both demonstrate that Georgian comedy filmmaking was reaching new heights.
In 1973, Giorgi Shengelaya filmed “The Melodies of Vera Quarter”, the first Georgian musical. In terms of quality acting, artistic approaches, and the originality of the theme, this musical film easily vied with its American counterparts. Eldar Shengelaya’s comedy “The Loonies” (1973) is a fairytale movie focusing on the idea of freedom. The film’s top-notch directing, Rezo Gabriadze’s exceptional screenplay, and the unforgettable score by Gia Kancheli and Jansugh Kakhidze largely predetermined its success. The film production of that period also includes “The Adventures of Lazare” (1973), a remarkable movie by Kartlos and Ramaz (Buba) Khotivari that found favor with both the audience and critics.
Nodar Managadze’s “The Story of Ivane Kotorashvili” (1974) is a film adaptation of Vazha-Pshavela’s poem of the same name. The film portrays a man who combines within himself the characteristic features of a typical Georgian, such as kindness and guilelessness, patriotism and a courteous regard for women, courage, and humility.
In 1974, Kutaisi hosted the First Republican Film Festival. This city was selected to honor Vasil Amashukeli, the first Georgian filmmaker, and the foundation was laid for yet another good tradition. Subsequently, the festival took place in different Georgian cities and attracted scores of viewers.
The path pioneered in Georgian film studies by Carlo Gogodze was duly continued by Giorgi Kharatishvili, Olga Tabukashvili, Kora Tsereteli, Natia Amirejibi, Giorgi (Gogi) Dolidze, Otar Sepiashvili, Tata Tvalchrelidze, Rusudan Tikanadze, Irine Kuchukhidze, and others. Their monographs and articles assess the glorious ways of Georgian film and critically review relevant historical and theoretical issues.
In the film “Pastoral” (1976), Otar Ioseliani continued to expose the vicious sides of modernity, but this time, he moved the action from the city to the countryside and openly showed the not idyllic life of the peasantry, but rather one full of problems. Tengiz Abuladze's “The Wish Tree” (1976) was created based on the motifs of Giorgi Leonidze's short story collection of the same name. In it, the director returned to the eternal themes of good and evil, beauty, and love. The film is full of extraordinary pictorial shots, and colorite persons have taken a special place in the overall dynamics of the narrative. Irakli Kvirikadze's film, “City of Anara” (1976), is a parody on whimsical, senseless morals, against which the main character fights, although he can't do anything about it.
Rezo Esadze’s film “Love at First Sight” (1977) is quite original, rich in metaphors, and stylistically fresh. The film encountered many obstacles, and at one point its fate was unclear. Nonetheless, it did hit the silver screen.
The student film aroused the interest of specialists. In the course and diploma works of the future directors, the striving for cinematic perfection and the insatiable thirst for mastering professional habits were already noticeable. One such film was Goderdzi Chokheli's “Mother of the Place” (1977), a sad story about an almost deserted village in the mountainous region of Georgia. Five years later, this film won the grand prize at the Oberhausen (Germany) film festival.
Lana Ghoghoberidze’s “Several Interviews on Personal Matters” (1978) portrays a modern female journalist, her functions both at home and in the public arena, her innermost passions, her environment, and everyday challenges. The film was awarded the grand prize at the Sanremo Auteur Film Festival in Italy. Alexandre Rekhviashvili’s “The XIX Century Georgian Chronicles”, another excellent film, was released in 1978 to showcase a brand new type of cinematic aesthetics.
“Data Tutashkhia” (1978), a film by Gizo Gabeskiria and Giga Lortkipanidze, is based on Chabua Amirejibi’s acclaimed novel of the same name. The film is an excellent example of flawless adaptation. The authors exhibited remarkable skills in plot development and audience engagement and masterfully communicated the protagonist’s touching story.
In 1978, a new union “Debut” was added to the two creative unions in the Studio “Georgian Film”, in which novice filmmakers were supposed to shoot their films. In the early years, interesting films were made in this experimental unit; among them were Nana Jorjadze’s “The Journey to Sopot” (1979), Temur Babluani’s “The Flight of Sparrows” (1980), and Goderdzi Chokheli’s “Khevsur from Bakurkhevi” (1980).
As the creative scope of the TV Film Studio of Georgia expanded, Georgian television films, with their in-depth content, original representation, and exemplary civic consciousness, successfully engaged in healthy competition with the products of other studios. Among others, director Guram Pataraya built a successful career in this institution by filming both documentaries (“A Long Way to Gurjistan”, “Athos Monastery”, and others) and short feature films (“The Record”,”Love, Fire, and Pompiero”, and “The Lucky First-Foot”), which attracted a multitude of viewers to the television screen.
The Studio of Documentary, Newsreels, and Popular Science Films, where invaluable historical materials were created, enabled Georgian documentary filmmakers to exercise their creative integrity and clear cinematic thinking, and to seek new artistic forms, in the process of filmmaking. It was at that time that author and dramatist Rezo Tabukashvili started filming his series of documentaries. His inaugural work, Kartvelebi Italiashi (Georgians in Italy), consisted of two films: “The Bright Trace” (1978) and “The Alpine Star” (1979).
In the eighties, a new generation of Georgian filmmakers emerged. Most of them had graduated from the Film Faculty (Film School) of the Shota Rustaveli State Theater Institute of Georgia. They entered history under the name “Generation of the Eighties”. They brought new ideas and expressive forms, looked at reality with different eyes, established a new vision, and explored many aspects of social life.
Levan Zakareishvili’s directorial debut, “Father” (1983), is a psychological drama involving human relations. The film was honored with the grand prize at the International Film Festival Oberhausen. In 1983, Eldar Shengelaya filmed the satirical comedy “Blue Mountains, or an Unbelievable Story,” based on Rezo Cheishvili’s novel. Using the method of critical realism, the director criticized the bureaucracy, negligence, and inadequacy plaguing one of the state institutions and hinted that this “ailment” is, unfortunately, an integral part of our society and that it must be healed. The film and the problems raised by it resemble Kote Mikaberidze’s “My Grandmother,” and it seems to admit with regret that not much has changed since.
Debutant directors have come to animation too. They immediately attracted attention with their interesting works. Lado Sulakvelidze's "Land Demands Its Own" (1983), Davit Takaishvili's "The Plague" (1983), which won the main prize at the Cannes Film Festival in the category of animated films, Levan Chkonia's "Rusty Knight" (1984), and Davit Sikharulidze's "The Adventures of the Naive Goose Tasiko" (1984) actually reflected the new trends that these young people showed in the first years of their appearances in the professional arena.
The elements of absurdity, phantasmagoria, and surrealism are interwoven in Tengiz Abuladze’s “Repentance” (1984), a film depicting an artist’s bold protest against violence, tyranny, dictatorship, and oppression of the innocent. The director himself believed that, without repentance, there is no purification, which is why the dramatic story offered by him leaves a lasting impression. For different reasons, the film debuted only two years later, marking the beginning of its global triumph. “Repentance” gained international recognition and a number of awards, most notably the jury’s grand prize at the Cannes Film Festival.
Sergo Parajanov and Dodo Abashidze filmed “The Legend of the Surami Fortress” (1984), using an unconventional form of representation. The touching story in Giorgi Shengelaia’s “The Journey of a Young Composer” (1984) is an attempt of sorts to reevaluate Georgia’s contemporary history. The film received the Silver Bear award for Best Director at the Berlin Film Festival.
In 1984, the Studio of Documentary, Newsreels, and Popular Science Films was transformed into the Film Studio “Mematiane”.
Aleko Tsabadze’s emotional film “The Spot” (1985), which dealt with problematic youth issues, projected a strong presence and resonated among wider audiences. The director scrutinized an individual’s place in society and took a decisive stance on this far-reaching matter.
Since the late 1980s, socioeconomic and political ideological shifts have taken place in the Soviet Union, leading the country to a new phase in its development and having a tremendous impact on every area of life. Those involved in art were granted relative creative freedom. Although censorship persisted, it certainly slackened its grip. At that time, the national liberation movement grew stronger in Georgia, raising new issues and objectives that influenced the thematic subjects in filmmaking.
“The Roots” (1986), a film directed by Karaman (Guguli) Mgeladze, covers a brand new thematic subject and describes the adventures of a Georgian emigrant to France. With original cinematic strokes and nuances, the authors flawlessly portrayed the innermost being of a person isolated from his homeland and evoked empathy for him among the audience.
In 1991, Georgia became an independent state. Independence was accompanied by political tensions, financial crises, civil confrontations, and military actions in several regions of the country. Concrete socioeconomic problems affected the country’s everyday life and hindered the development of national film. A challenging period of transition began.
Drastic changes took place in Georgian filmmaking: traditional financing ceased, old institutions crumbled, and new film companies and studios emerged. To overhaul its workflow and keep up with the changing times, the Studio “Georgian Film” was first transformed into a film concern and later into a joint-stock company. The film production of that time was dominated by young directors' films, which were not as commercially viable but rather focused on problematic issues through realistic representation and simple forms. The reevaluation of values, pessimism, and obliteration of fine lines between reality and conditionality prevailed in these works.
Temur Babluani’s “The Sun of the Sleepless” (1992) is a social drama suffused with psychological hues and emotional charges. The director placed key emphases on an exemplary father-son relationship, a scholar tirelessly working on universal problems, and a life full of controversies. This film garnered a number of prestigious awards, notably the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival.
Georgian films continued to make a good account of themselves in the international arena. Some achieving major success, such as Dito Tsintsadze’s “On the Edge” (1993), which won the Silver Leopard in Locarno (Switzerland), Giorgi (Gio) Mgeladze’s “No, Friend” (1993), which claimed the grand prize in Oberhausen (Germany), and Nana Janelidze’s “Lullaby” (1994) awarded the grand prize in Pesaro (Italy).
Economic hardship also affected Georgian film, which had never before lacked whole generations of talented people or top-notch artistic and creative performances. Because of financial problems, the production of many films would drag on for years. The government was unable to allocate sufficient financing to studios, which is why they actively sought sponsors. Some directors filmed their works at their own expense.
Nana Jorjadze’s Georgian-French co-production “A Chef in Love” (1996), featuring Pierre Richard, an acclaimed French actor, in the lead role, was nominated for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language.
Hard times have come for animation filmmakers. During this period, only four films were shot in Georgia: "The Borders" (1997) by Shadiman Chavchavadze, "The Strongest" (1997) by Amiran Isiani, "Builders of the Village" (1997) by Merab Salaridze, and "Paradox" (1999) by Bondo Shoshitaishvili. The reason for such a shortage was the failure of the material and technical base and a lack of financial security.
Georgian filmmakers stepped into the XXI century with fresh creative ideas, projects, and, most importantly, hope. Most of the film production was gradually assumed by smaller companies and studios established, for the most part, by independent producers. They correctly assessed the situation and concluded that commercial cinema would not develop in Georgia without an adequate network of cinemas in place, which is why they switched mainly to those pictures that would ensure our cinema’s broad representation at international festivals. In response, pessimists pronounced Georgian filmmaking dead. In reality, however, it was impossible, in just a few years of independence, to adapt to changes, meet modern international standards, and replenish the thematic repertoire overnight. All this was accompanied by persistent production or creative flaws.
In 2000, the Georgian National Film Center was established and put in charge of defining the state policy on Georgian filmmaking, promoting film production and film education, and the development of cinema networks and film export, as well as ensuring state support, coordination, and so on.
In 2002, the Tbilisi International Film Festival was launched with the goal of introducing the Georgian audience to the latest examples of world filmmaking and to foster the further development of the country’s film industry. The festival’s visibility and popularity increase every year. Currently, it is one of the most prestigious film forums in Eastern Europe.
Some of the most exciting documentaries were “The Onion Tears” (2003, dir. Levan Ghlonti), “The Shadow of Pale February (Maro Makashvili)” (2005, dir. Gia Chubabria), “Cradle of Wine” (2011, dir. Merab Kokochashvili), “Will There Be a Theater Up There?” (2011, dir. Nana Janelidze), and others.
Feature film directors created a number of notable pieces, such as “One More Georgian Story” (2003, dir. Erekle Badurashvili), “Tbilisi–Tbilisi” (2005, dir. Levan Zakareishvili), “A Trip to Karabakh” (2005, dir. Levan Tutberidze), “The Other Bank” (2009, dir. Giorgi Ovashvili), “Rene Goes to Hollywood” (2010, dir. Aleko Tsabadze), “The Clockmaker” (2011, dir. Giorgi Maskharashvili), and “Blind Dates” (2013, dir. Levan Koghuashvili). Most of them have received different awards (including grand prizes) at a variety of international film festivals. The work of young female filmmakers is important. The films of Rusudan Pirveli, Rusudan Chkonia, Tinatin Kajrishvili, Nana Ekvtimishvili, and others have already gained international recognition and filled the minds of national film fans with faith in a better future.
The fashion of the film festival spread to the most beautiful city in Georgia, Batumi. In 2006, two international film festivals were established here: the International Festival of Art-house Films and the Festival of Orthodox Films, “St. Andrew's Cross”. The best film productions were sent from different parts of the world to participate in them. Since 2007, the Tbilisi International Student Film Festival "Amirani" has been renewed and gained international status. It is held annually at the Shota Rustaveli Theatre and Film Georgia State University, and student film productions from various film schools are presented. Since 2009, the International Film Festival of Animated Films, "Tofuzi" has been operating. In the following years, several more international film festivals were established in Georgia.
It is particularly distinguished Zaza Urushadze's film, "Tangerines" (2013), which received an Oscar nomination. In addition, this work and Giorgi Ovashvili's "Corn Island" (2014), taken together, won so many awards that they even set a unique record.
From recent film productions, it is worth noting: Rusudan Glurjidze's “Another House” (2016), Zaza Khalvashi's “Namme” (2017), Mariam Khachvani's “Dede” (2017), Lali Kiknavelidze's “The Kakhetian Train” (2018), Uta Beria's “Negative Numbers” (2019), Mikheil Kvirikadze's “Jesus Bird” (2020), Aleksandre Koberidze's “What Do We See When We Look at the Sky?" (2021) and others that are interesting examples of original filmmaking.
Meanwhile, the new scripts are being written, the new films are being worked on, and the audience is waiting for interesting works that will glorify the name of the phenomenon called Georgian film.